This is 2008. Everyone these days has a blog. Yet, within some sectors of government, there is resistance to using this not-so-new communications tool. Why? What are the “perceived risks”?
We don’t trust our employees. This comes across in two ways.
First, some federal agencies block all social networking sites (YouTube, MySpace) and this includes any blog with a wordpress.com or blogspot.com address. While there are acceptable use policies on using government computers which spell out, basically, don’t screw around at work, some IT managers take things a step further and ban all social networking sites.
This prevents inflows and outflows of communication. How does this effect government employees charged with communicating with the public? Let’s say you’re a climatologist within a government agency. You need to write a report on the Arctic but you can’t get information on a recent mission there because it’s on a Blogger site. Conversely, you can’t communicate to an audience who would be interested in your work because they’re a Facebook group.
Second, some unenlightened communications departments don’t trust ordinary employees with communications. Talking to the public requires highly skilled professionals, in their view. When they learn that non-communicators are communicating without permission, their first instinct is to shut things down. After all, these people may be off-message and may describe their work without the appropriate context.
Yet, these fears are really just “perceived risks” – they’re not actually risks. Fear of Facebook is unwarranted. An appropriate use policy and occasional monitoring will prevent the abuse of social media privileges.
And communicators in government must learn this is the Age of Authenticity. Readers want unmediated information. Gatekeepers and middlemen from every industry have given way to the masses, like it or not. Everyone is a communicator now. Communications departments should be training employees, not trying to censor them.
Blogging is just another communication tool, analogous to publishing a paper, giving a presentation, writing an email to a group or publishing a web page. It’s just another way to share knowledge with the tax-paying public.
Efforts within government to ban blogging and block social media do the public a disservice, because they prevent communication with the people who pay the bills.